In this mysterious image, a lone figure draped in a flowing white garment seems to press into the wind as an ocean wave breaks in the background. Her bent pose is unusual and it is unclear why she has her hands clasped behind her head. Is she injured? Is she trying to take off her dress? Stettner’s subjects are often anonymous, so their motivations are not always obvious.
Visually, this photograph appears straightforward, but much of its appeal lies in the details. The dress’s bright highlights echo the white of the cresting wave, balancing out the composition. Stettner also captures slight variations in shading on the water’s surface to create a textured pattern of subtle ripples, echoed in the soft folds of the white dress. The location of this photograph—Torremolinos, Spain—is a slight deviation from the artist’s traditional shooting locales of New York City and Paris. Torremolinos was once a poor fishing town on Spain’s southern coast but experienced a rapid growth in tourism during the 1950s and remains one of the most popular vacation getaways in the region.
What do you think the person in the photograph is doing? What might have happened right before this shot was taken? Or, right after?
Stettner was born and raised in Brooklyn and found much of his inspiration in the people and environment around him. He described his pull to photography saying: “My way of life, my very being is based on images capable of engraving themselves indelibly in our inner soul’s eye.” Often focusing on people and places, Stettner has been praised for his ability to imbue his photographs with a sense of humanity and capture the essence of a personality, a space, or a moment. As a member of the Photo League during the 1940s and 50s, Stettner immersed himself in New York City’s burgeoning photography scene, working alongside noted photographers like Sid Grossman, Paul Strand, and Weegee. After serving as a combat photographer in WWII, Stettner briefly returned to New York and then moved to Paris, where he lived and worked off and on for the remainder of his career. Stettner usually produced works in series, forming collections that explored a single theme such as industrial workers, New York’s Penn Station, or Paris’s city-dwellers. In addition to these series, Stettner also photographed for Life, Time, and Fortune, as well as a number of advertising agencies throughout the U.S. and Europe.